The Birdcage

“Sweetie not everyone who is in jail is there because they did something bad. Sometimes the police are bad.” This was not the conversation I thought I’d be having with my seven year old in 2014. I thought back to my childhood years of colouring police officers with a blue crayon in nursery school . “Don’t steal or you’ll be put in jail” we’d often hear. The image of a police officer was one of protection, of power, an image of someone who you could go to and ask for help if you ever lost your parents in a crowd. But this was Bermuda in the 80’s and I’m living in Kenya. My friend is in jail and my son wanted to know what he had done.

I remember visiting the Westgate prison in Bermuda with my father as a child. He was on deacon duty visiting inmates who were there for various crimes. It never occurred to me to assume their innocence . Of course they were in there because the did something bad. I never saw any of them come out of prison and there certainly wasn’t any talk between my parents of how to get them out.

But this is the reality for victims of outright corrupt systems of bribery and tainted bureaucracy. So for my friend whose passport and visa were expired this was the fate that he fell into. And here I was, telling my son that “sometimes police are bad.” I wonder how that will begin to frame his thinking of the men and women in blue uniforms. I imagine that there will be no blue crayon to colour outlines of the friendly officer and perhaps when we visit Bermuda seeing the police officer standing in the birdcage directing traffic will have a different meaning for him.

Police standing in the Birdcage on Front Street
Police standing in the Birdcage on Front Street

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